“I was in the mood to make a . . . reflection of my confusion with the current political landscape. The dualisms inherent in the Candomblé religion helped me organize this.” —Matthew Barney
Matthew Barney’s five-part Cremaster cycle—arguably the most ambitious artwork in recent memory—took the artist on a decade-long journey across the Western world, from Idaho and Utah to New York City, the Isle of Man, and Budapest. The often bewildering, mind-bending epic is simultaneously hermetic and open-ended, made out of a melange of sources—classical mythology and arcane allegory, medical experiments, vernacular fables, and popular myths. The Walker presented the exhibition Matthew Barney Cremaster 2: The Drones’ Exposition in 1999 and is the only museum in the United States to have all five films of the cycle in its collection.
For his most recent, post-Cremaster project, Barney turned south. At this year’s Carnaval Salvador Bahia, he collaborated with American-Brazilian musician Arto Lindsay to create De Lama Lâmina (From Mud, a Blade), a festival float/performance stage/carnival procession that makes multiple cross-references to Candomblé (an indigenous Brazilian religion blending the faith of African slaves with characteristics of Catholicism), environmental destruction, and polymorphous, malleable sexual identity. His contribution to the Walker without Walls Billboard Project, located in Minneapolis at the intersection of Hennepin Avenue and 12th Street, is a preview of this hybrid of mythology and iconography, now being developed into a film. The female figure is dressed in abada, a traditional costume for rituals and festival processions and here cut-patterned like the bark of a harvested tree. The flowers blossoming from her mouth turn her body into a reproductive tree spirit. Occupying the luminous negative space—the “field”—and placed as a counterpoint to the woman, a logo combines the symbols of two important Candomblé gods—Ogun, the god of war, and Ossaîm, the god of the forest and herbal healing—and embodies at once creation and destruction, coexistence and conflict. But, as is always the case with Barney’s work, this simple composition and the simpler description cannot but fail to capture what will unfold. The billboard is only a tantalizing suggestion of a whole new realm of visuals and meanings in gestation, startlingly different but clearly identifiable as Matthew Barney’s.